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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The "Broadway LA" Production The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

At the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
My parents keep on telling me. . .
Just being here is winning. . .Although I know it isn't so.

—Chip Tolentino

The "Broadway LA" production and Los Angeles Premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is not only a lengthy sentence but also a must-see hit. The Wadsworth Theatre in Brentwood has reunited the original Broadway cast for the four week limited run through June 17, and they are just as delightful and hilarious as raved about in New York.

For those who have not heard about the show and dread sitting through anything related to spelling, rest assured — this Bee will make you laugh. As if the side-splitting antics of six adults portraying eccentric children, battling each other to make it through to the final round isn't enough, there's the audience participation factor and the uproarious (if occasionally PG-13) jokes. It's easy to see why the show has become a Broadway smash and Tony Award winner for Best Book of a Musical and Best Actor (Dan Fogler).

The humor has been updated to fit the Los Angeles setting, causing the show to feel new and fresh. The Wadsworth Theatre aptly provides a perfect setting for the Bee, capturing the intimacy and allowing the cast to drift easily in and out of the audience. Overall, the talent on stage is the biggest draw. The cast is adept at creating wickedly clever asides on the spot, especially relating to the featured audience members on stage.

Moreover, for all its laughs, the show actually has something to say about kids who just don't fit in. Although it ridicules the absurdity of such high competition for children so young, we glimpse everything from neurotic, self-enforced perfectionism, to strange spelling rituals, to parental enforced dedication. We are constantly reminded that these things are taken very seriously, even as the play wisely avoids becoming maudlin or preachy about nerds and eccentrics who might be mocked in any other setting. Instead, we are invited to sit back and sympathize, while laughing our heads off at the absurdity of it all.

Despite the fifteen to twenty minutes that could have been shaved off the production (including a somewhat cheesy "The I Love You" song), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will leave you smiling and invigorated. An LA must see!

CurtainUp's editor Elyse Sommer has followed the Spelling Bee from the time it took wings at Barrington Stage, to its move to off-Broadway and then Broadway. To read what she had to say, pictures of the cast, spelling bee trivia , and for a list of the songs, here.


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Directed By: James Lapine
Music and Lyrics By: William Finn
Book By: Rachel Sheinkin
Conceived By: Rebecca Feldman
Choreographed By: Dan Knechtges
Cast: Derrick Baskin, Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler, Lisa Howard, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Jose Llana, Jay Reiss, Sarah Saltzberg
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting Design: Nataha Katz
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Running Time: 105 minutes, no intermission
Dates: Now through Sun., June 17. Tuesday - Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm, Sunday at 1 pm & 6:30 pm
Wadsworth Theatre. Located on Wilshire Blvd, just west of the 405 Freeway on the Veterans Administration grounds in West L.A.
Tickets: $28-83.
Tickets: Online: Phone: 213-365-3500 or 714-740-7878. In person: All ticketmaster outlets. In Person without convenience charges: Wadsworth Theatre Box Office - Daily 10 am - 5 pm, or until 30 minutes after curtain time on show days or Pantages Theatre Box Office 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Daily 10 am - 5 pm
For more information visit
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on 5/27/07.
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